When a relationship hits a rocky patch, there are three things I teach my clients that they can do to stop the rot and turn a potentially bad situation into something they can both learn from immediately.
The first is to picture that there is an imaginary bridge between your world and your partner’s world. And when you partner is talking, imagine crossing that bridge into their world and try to see things from their point of view. The tendency to be thinking of a reply even before your partner has finished speaking is extremely common. We all do it. But stopping to listen to what is being said, and not trying to respond immediately is one of the most powerful things that you can do. When your partner realises that you are really listening, it will soothe and calm them. They will not feel that its necessary to get the last word, and they are likely to start listening to you, too.
In Imago Relationship Therapy, the form of couples counselling that I use in my practice and teach in the Reignite Your Relationship video course I have created for singles and couples, this is reinforced by each partner ‘mirroring’ the other, and actually saying back what it is that they have heard. This process is so powerful. We call it The Dialogue, and the process takes the heat out of arguments and enables each partner to talk so the other will listen, and listen so the other will talk.
As this process develops, the second thing that will turn your relationship around naturally emerges: it is the ability to realise that you are two very different people, and that’s alright. For many couples there is a sense that you need to be alike, to think alike and act alike, and they can even feel scared if they feel there is too much difference between them. However when you mirror each other, you will find yourself saying the things that your partner believes and feels, allowing you to see that you are really different. Realising and accepting your partner’s differences is key to a healthy relationship, and it works instantly.
Often couples come to me saying that they feel they are too different, or if their partner would be more like them everything would be alright. However, difference is not only healthy, it is normal and I teach that this should be respected and honoured. When a partner tells me that they have come to love the ways that their partner differs from them, I know that theirs is a relationship that is healthy.
The third valuable thing that you can do to get your relationship back on track quickly is to stay curious about each other. If your partner does something that you find really annoying, ask yourself why they are doing it, and why it annoys you. I find that working with this method, couples can get to the bottom of their behaviours, habits and cycles, so that a greater appreciation of each other emerges.
Couples can go from conflict to connection by being curious, in a fairly short time. A characteristic of long term relationships is often that the partners will think that they know everything about their spouse, and things can feel stale and tired. However once you start to discover something new about a partner even when the relationship is years old, the interest can reignite. You can reframe and reinvent the way you see each other, passion can be reignited and the relationship can reach new depths of intimacy.
So, by taking time to cross the bridge into the other’s world, by mirroring back what you hear them say (and allowing them to correct you if you’ve got it wrong), by recognising that you are two different people and thats a good thing, and by staying curious, a relationship that is flagging or feels dead can be rekindled. I see it frequently in my therapy room. It is a reality that can be anyone’s if you are willing to do the work.
Annie Gurton is an Advanced Imago Relationship Therapist based on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and the course presenter in the RESCU Me Academy Reignite Your Relationship course.